Jesus, How Long Are You Going to Keep Us In Suspense?!? (John 10:22-30)

Imagine you’re sitting on an outer porch of the Jerusalem Temple during the time of Jesus. You’re at one end of a massive stone structure, as large as six football fields. And, you’re on a height, nearly ten stories up in the air. Just sitting and watching as the religious come to mark the eight-day feast of the Dedication of this very temple.

You’re sitting at the edge of a particular porch named for Solomon, famous for his wisdom–a place where people would come to teach and discuss the Torah. Jesus, the teacher and miracle-worker so many have been talking about over the past year walks in. Immediately people gather around him to ask him a question, now that he’s putting himself out there to teach in such a place.

You overhear them ask Jesus, “How long are you going to keep us in suspense?”…”tell us plainly” (John 10:24).

And you think, yes, I want to know too. Jesus, how long are you going to keep me in suspense…guessing, wondering, and having doubts about….”

  • what you’re doing in my life?
  • why it (whatever “it” is) is so hard?
  • why are there people who suffer so much? and what I’m supposed to do to help? or why I can’t seem to do anything to help?
  • why I’m hurting?
Image: Dannielle Blumenthal (Flickr) CC-BY-2.0

Many, if not most, of us have questions that we feel like we’re waiting on God to answer. And, if you’re anything like me, you just wish that God would make it plain, and quickly!  at that. Make it clear. Give me the sign that explains everything, so that I can be at peace, knowing how it all works out.

To my fill-in-the-blank question, “Jesus, how long are you going to keep me waiting on ____________?” Jesus’ answer is nothing and everything, all at the same time.

Speaking of those who believe, Jesus says:

My sheep hear my voice;
I know them, and they follow me.
I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.
No one can take them out of my hand.
My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all,
and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand. (John 10:27-30)

There are three promises here for those who believe Jesus is the Savior:

  1. “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”

    Notice that this isn’t a statement of causality, but of apparent fact. And “hear” is a continuing present tense. Even when we feel like we’re in suspense, stuck wondering. In the same ten minutes of prayer, I can start off venting, in sadness or frustration, “Jesus, how long are you going to keep me in suspense?!?” and still hear God, sense God guiding me in other aspects of my life. In this promise, I don’t receive an answer to the question “how long will you keep me waiting?” but I receive a promise that I’m still going to be one of God’s “sheep,” while I’m in suspense. I’ll not be abandoned, forgotten, ignored, put in a corner, or left-behind. God will be speaking to me, guiding me–even as I wait.

  2. “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand.”

    Blessed John Henry Newman explained that “ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt.” Be honest with God. If you need to come to the Lord in prayer ten times a day to say, “Jesus, how long are you going to keep me in suspense about ________?” it’s okay. Those questions of prayer aren’t going to take you out of Jesus’ hand. Maybe Jesus gives us eternal life because in earthly time it indeed would take an eternity to answer all of our questions of longing, suffering, and frustration. Know that no matter how long–weeks, months, years, decades–you say to Jesus in honesty, “how long are you going to keep me in suspense?”–Jesus will not let you, his precious and beloved “sheep” perish. Waiting is not the same as perishing.

  3. “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand.”

    A final reiteration of the three promises that are truly one. God the Father, the Creator of the universe is “greater than all,” over all things. Even outside of time. What we are in suspense about, God our Loving Father is not only aware of, but preparing us for. He’s speaking to us, guiding us through other people, through the words of Scripture, through the counsel of others…so that when the answer to our question, “Jesus, how long are you going to keep me in suspense?” comes–we’ll be ready.

As we listen to these promises, they are clear. Jesus has told us the biggest, most cosmic truths, plainly. But the details? Well, those are another story. As long as we’re human, I think the aspects of suspense, of wondering and guessing, are always going to captivate us. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Share it with Jesus. Be honest about what’s keeping you in suspense. Yet never lose sight of the big picture–of the promises made good through the Cross–these promises will last through eternity, where we’ll never be waiting again!


The Last Moment Before the Next

From the final Gospel of Advent*

“In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us” (Lk 1:78)

And isn’t that how God always happens.

Breaking upon us.
Surprising us.
Seemingly not there, and then suddenly there.
There like never before.
There all along.

We see the dawn coming. We know the dawn comes. And yet, to experience it takes one’s breath away.

Thank you, God, for those divine shocks.
Thank you for the Dawn from on High.
Let that Dayspring break upon us.

Donald Jackson. Luke Frontispiece: The Birth of Christ (Lk 2:1-20)


*yes, missing in action this year due to Dec 24th falling on a Sunday

Working On the Wrong Bread

Today’s Gospel reading ends with a convicting line from Jesus: the work of God is believing in His Son (Jn 6:29). If I’m to do the work of God (and I want to in my life, right?) it’s not cleaning the house, writing emails, or organizing files–it’s believing “in the one he sent.”

To understand it more fully, let’s put it in context. This whole series of related events starts when a large crowd is follows Jesus because of the physical healings they’d seen him perform–signs of his true identity. Jesus then asks one of the Twelve disciples, Philip, “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” Philip bluntly responds that there’s no way they’d possibly have enough money to buy food for that many people (Jn 6:7).

This provides the occasion for another sign from Jesus. Instead of buying food, Jesus multiplies five loaves and two fish such that over five thousand people were fed.

The next day the crowds catch back up with Jesus and he explains to them, “I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled.”

They’re thinking too concretely. Too concerned with the earthly details. Seeing the trees but not the forest. Perceiving that being around Jesus is working out okay for them, right now, but not interested in the broader implications. We can develop a similar outlook. It’s not a bad thing to recognize and be fed by the tangible blessings God provides for us. But, if we start to view God as some kind of cosmic-Easter-bunny who sprinkles tasty treats in our life, then we’re missing the fullness of who God is and His plan for all humanity.

See, God doesn’t want us as His consumers. We’re not in some kind of contractual relationship with God where we do good, and God gives us good things–material blessings, health, etc. We don’t seek God merely hoping for more loaves and fishes. Through Jesus, God’s Son, we receive the Holy Spirit and are supernaturally empowered to be co-workers with God, co-heirs, beloved children–members of a Body, in genuine, intimate relationship with God.

This is how belief and work come together. When we believe, we see what Jesus’ signs point to. When we believe, we share in God’s work, rather than laboring on our own. We might be doing the same activity as before–but now our activity is joined to God, we share in Jesus’ priestly, prophetic, and kingly identities in the world, and if we’re open, God’s love overflows through us, through our work.

Today is also the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker, reminding us that the Church affirms the dignity and co-creativity we engage in with God through our human labors. Let us pray that all of our work flow more and more from ardent belief in the Son of God, so that we might behold, more and more, the fullness of God’s mission we partake in. As today’s Office of Readings, Feast of St. Joseph the Worker (cf. Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, no. 33-34) notes:

“By his labor and abilities man/woman has always striven to improve the quality of his/her life…In the face of this vast enterprise now engaging the whole human race, men/women are asking themselves a series of questions. What is the meaning and value of all this activity? How should these benefits be used? Where are the efforts of individuals and communities finally leading us?..Where men and women, in the course of gaining a livelihood for themselves and their families, offer appropriate service to society, they can be confident that their personal efforts promote the work of the Creator, confer benefit on their fellowmen, and help to realize God’s plan in history.”



And when in doubt, the work is to believe, to be attentive to Son’s signs, and let the Holy Spirit take care of the rest!

When to Not Imitate Jesus

As disciples of Jesus, we seek to follow Jesus–to be like him as much as possible while on earth. This conformity to Christ is a foretaste of future glory, when, as John writes, “we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).

Yet today’s Gospel (Lk 6:6-11) offers an example of Jesus that we can’t follow. Something we shouldn’t imitate or even attempt! Here’s the setting: Jesus is teaching in a synagogue, where a man with a “withered” hand is present. Scribes and Pharisees are watching Jesus closely to see what he will do–will Jesus heal on the sabbath?

Jesus engages in demonstration (healing the man) and careful dialogue with the onlookers. These actions and words are deliberately provocative. Designed to elicit a response. And what kind of response? Well, it could be a response of radical conversion, of a new openness, of definitive life-change. On the other hand, it could be a response of anger, of circling the wagons, of increased frustration or outrage. Jesus indeed takes a situation that could have entrapped him and turns it into a question that “traps” the scribes and Pharisees, “is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?”

As modern day disciples, we could look at this example and think to ourselves, That’s right! I need to think up questions that “trap” and provoke in a way that leads to rage on the part of those I converse with!

But, this would miss an absolutely important detail. A critical, humbling detail that reminds us that while Jesus is fully divine, we are simply human. Before the “trap” of this episode occurs, Luke the Evangelist explains that Jesus “realized their intentions.” Jesus knew the intentions of those who questioned him. Jesus completely understood their response and ramifications.

But us? No. We do not know the intentions of those we converse with. Of those we meet in the public square. Of those we interact with online. Of those who enter our churches.

Unlike Jesus, we are not in the position to know the intentions of others–their deepest motivations, longings, hurts, and (sometimes) hidden or emerging relationship with God. We can guess a little, but at best this is merely an assumption, especially if we haven’t developed a genuine relationship with the person.

Sometimes, in a society where conversation and dialogue can seem like a “battle,” it can be easy for us to make an idol of “winning” a conversation, making “an example” of those who disagree with us, or trapping others in a way that is less than charitable. Yet this is a dangerous path for us to take!

Unlike Jesus, we never know the full intentions of another. What presents itself as aggressive questioning of our Christian faith may really be a hidden wound or genuine curiosity. A question that comes across wrong or rudely may not be fully intended that way. As evangelizers, we must take the route of greatest charity, of greatest openness to the possibility that God is ready to work in those we meet.

Right now.

Even in the midst of an uncomfortable conversation or a debate that makes us feel a little defensive.

As we evangelize, let us remember this simple truth–Jesus knows the intentions of all. We do not. May the Holy Spirit grant us the wisdom and charity to speak and act accordingly.

a version of this post also appears at

Turn Until You Know Jesus: The Feast of Mary Magdalene

From Lorraine Cuddeback via I Have Seen the Lord | Daily Theology, a Gospel message for today:

“Mary’s hopelessness is almost palatable.

The angels that appear — those who so helpfully explain the meaning of the empty tomb in Mark, Matthew, and Luke — cannot draw Mary’s attention in this narrative.

Her weeping overwhelms her sight, her senses, and she offers no reaction to the two men suddenly sitting where the head and feet of Jesus should have been. Instead, she only reiterates the problem: “I don’t know where they laid him.” Mary is lost in her grief until Jesus himself calls her name:

She turned around and saw Jesus there, but did not know it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” She thought it was the gardener and said to him, “Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,” which means Teacher. (Jn 20:14-16)

Read the passage carefully, and you’ll see that she turns twice — she turns towards Jesus when she first sees him, but does not know him. Then, despite supposedly looking at him to ask her question, she turns again when he calls her name.”


Turning evokes another mightily important New Testament word, metanoia.

Though sometimes translated to English as “repentance,” metanoia is much more–it’s a full turning, conversion. And, conversion of one’s whole self. Heart. Mind. Soul. Body. Everything conversion.

This is why I love that Mary the Magdalene turns twice. Many of us raised in Christian settings “saw” Jesus from a young age. We learned of Him and objectively experienced Him in sacraments (even if our dispositions were lacking faith…). But, we may not have known Him. Personally. Sometimes it’s the second (or third! or fourth! etc.) turning that’s true metanoia, the conversion that allows us to exclaim from the depths of our hearts and souls, like Mary, Rabbouni–a personal term of relationship with Jesus.

Turn once. Turn twice. Turn thrice. The important thing, is to turn as metanoia. Experience, as Pope Emeritus Benedict encouraged, “the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction” (Deus Caritas Est, para. 1). Turn.


Image: CC 2.0 via Ivan (Flickr)

God’s Great Rescue, Urgency, and You

“I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me.” (Psalm 30:2a)

Today on the 4th Monday of Lent we respond to God’s Word with in the words of the Psalmist David, I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me (Psalm 30, in context or within Mass).

This response begs the question–from what, precisely, has God rescued you?

To be rescued implies that each of us, personally, was in need of rescue. God didn’t just pluck us from being “basically a nice person,” “pretty good,” or “okay” and raise us to something else. No–God rescues. God does something that none of us could ever do for ourselves. God offers a power beyond our attempts at self-improvement or “self-rescue.”

The Gospel of Salvation in Jesus Christ is indeed Good News (this is what the Greek word we translate as Gospel, euvangelion, literally means). Good News (like rescue) implies, however, that the status quo was not good. The status quo was the opposite of Good News.

For decades, change leadership theorist John Kotter has asserted that establishing a sense of urgency is a critical first step to effectively changing organizational behavior. I wonder, if the challenges and hesitations that organizations (large and small) and even individuals have when it comes to intentionally evangelizing flow from (among other things) a lack of urgency.

For example, if I don’t really feel like I’ve been “rescued” by the Lord–you know, I kind of feel like…hey, life was pretty good and being in relationship with God is just some bonus icing on the cake–then why would I be motivated to lead others to the Lord? If being a part of a local church is a nice lifestyle choice, but not something that flows from a necessary “rescue”–then why should I go out and invite others in?

So, consider again today’s Psalm response: “I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me.” (Psalm 30:2a)

What is it the Lord rescued you from? When you made the “fundamental decision” of your life to be a Christian after encountering Jesus Christ, what was the life you left behind as you turned to your “new horizon” with a “decisive direction”? (Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est, §1) Being able to name, to put into words the unique rescue God did in your life is a critical piece of testimony. In fact, if you struggle with sharing personal testimony, then just simply describing your own personal rescue can be a great start. This is a powerful testimony in and of itself–not further story required!

As I pondered in prayer, Lord, what did you rescue me from when as a teenager, I made that fundamental decision? The need for a rescue became quite clear! God rescued me from single-minded pursuit of prestige and academic success, from striving for worldly success, from placing my own needs above those of others, from preferring to avoid relationships (like parenting) that stretch one’s virtues, from being uncertain about the possibility of eternal salvation, from tacitly assuming that as a pretty-good-person-not-an-axe-murderer, heaven was pretty much automatic on my own merits, from doubt in the free grace of salvation, from fear of sacrifices or zealousness in faith. Quite the rescue 🙂

Name your rescue story. Share it. And, let your experience of God rescuing you become fuel for a renewed urgency of evangelization for all those around you!

The Faith to Evangelize When We Don’t See Fruit

“I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother.” Hard words from today’s Gospel (Mt 10:34-11:1). But, I’m going to warn you in advance–just to temper your expectations–today’s blog post isn’t really about this message in Matthew. And it certainly won’t explain it. But is is about witness. And memory. And the mystery of the Kingdom of God.

So here’s how the story begins, every year when I hear today’s distinctively hard and confusing Gospel, I’m transported back to when I heard a U.S. Army Reserve chaplain named Fr. Paul deliver a homily on this text at a daily Mass at Camp Victory, just outside of the city of Baghdad, Iraq.

For two months I lived on Camp Victory and had the blessing of frequently attending daily Mass with a handful of other U.S. troops–setting up aluminum chairs and then quickly hurrying back to our duties. I can’t remember Fr. Paul’s last name, or even his rank. I do remember his voice, his Iowan accent that sounded exactly like the M*A*S*H* character Radar O’Reilly. Fr. Paul was incredibly pastoral–one weekday in August that year, during the prayers of the faithful, I prayed for my parents on their anniversary. Afterwards he asked me, “would you like me to send a holy card to your parents? I’ve got some in my backpack and I included them as an intention of this Mass.” I’m sure he knew that as a deployed young adult, I’d probably forgotten to send them a card and would be hard pressed to find the time or available phone that day to give them a call [he was right].

For today’s Gospel reading, however, Fr. Paul didn’t prepare a typical homily. Instead he told us, somewhat haltingly, of a conversation he’d had weeks prior with an Iraqi Christian man on the base. Fr. Paul was visiting him to minister to him and they started talking about this Gospel passage. The man explained with passion how this Gospel message spoke to him. Jesus was speaking of his experiences–of having his faith in Jesus the Messiah and conversion to Christianity be a divide in his family and those around him. There was probably more to the story that Fr. Paul didn’t share with us–as I can still remember how he seemed ever so slightly choked up. He was humbled by the man’s witness and the mystery of how the Kingdom of God comes to be planted and nourished in each of us, nourished in ways beyond our human comprehension.

As I mentioned earlier, I only stayed at Camp Victory for two months. I probably didn’t visibly grow much in my faith under Fr. Paul’s pastoral care. I still don’t remember his last name. During combat deployment, troops move around a lot–and so the next time I was around Camp Victory for a visit (months later) I stopped by the chapel, and Fr. Paul had redeployed back to the U.S. But, I remember his witness–just as he remembered the witness of the Iraqi Christian he discussed today’s Gospel with.

Catholic chaplains are among the most underrepresented chaplains in the U.S. military in proportion to the religious identification of troops. As the Archdiocese for the Military Services explains, “Chaplains often speak about the exciting, creative nature of their ministry. They seek ways to reach out and connect with the different people they serve on a personal level, an opportunity they note is hard to come by in a civilian parish.” But here’s the flip-side, with the short contact many chaplains have with troops, they very often don’t get to see the seed of the Word of God grow within those they care for. They may plant, tend, and/or water the seed of the Word, but do not always have the opportunity to glimpse the fruits that emerge after many seasons or years.

While military chaplains illustrate this in a particularly vivid way, isn’t it really the same for all of us as evangelists?

We can and should take concrete actions to create an environment of trust and experience of God’s love, so that we can preach the message of salvation. We can and should cultivate conditions for the un-evangelized to then respond to the Gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ. We can and should offer the ongoing catechesis and formation in and through sacraments. We can and should form ourselves and others to continue this cycle of evangelization.

But, we rarely directly experience seeing the mystery of the Kingdom of God, the mystery of the Word implanted in a heart, unfold in one person through every stage of evangelization. As Paul writes in his first letter to the Corinthians, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God caused the growth” (1 Cor 3:6). We are “God’s co-workers”–every person we meet is “God’s field, God’s building” (1 Cor. 3:8-9). We may not see the the fruit of every seed we plant, or every small tree we water.

I remember the witness of Fr. Paul. I remember the witness of the Iraqi Christian man he spoke to. The seed of the Word of God was nourished in me, through them. They are both God’s co-workers–even though neither will likely ever know (this side of eternity) what fruits in my life either contributed to.

Be then an evangelizing, co-worker of God! Whether tilling soil, planting seeds, watering or harvesting–what you do matters, even if you do not see the fruits.

This essay originally appeared at